Artemisia Bartolini: Soul Poetry
A woman dressed in emerald green gracefully enters her living room. She glides to the mirror and watches as she twists her hair up into a clip and swipes her bangs from her eyes. She takes a seat at her café-sized kitchen table, plays with the bracelets sitting at her fingertips, then releases her hair from the clip, letting her hair fall to the top of her shoulders.
Artemisia Bartolini lives above a clothing store on the main piazza in Cagli, Italy. She was born in Apecchio but has lived in Cagli most of her life and describes herself as an adopted Cagliesi. Until 2012, Artemisia worked in the Cagli hospital, first as a lab technician, then in the administrative call center, and finally as a nurse’s assistant. While her dedication to the hospital and the people of Cagli spanned many years, this is not what Artemisia is known for. Instead, she is known for the way she moves people with words. She is a poet.
Artemisia’s speech quickens as she talks about a traumatic life event. The movement of her hands mirrors the excitement in her voice. The event opened her creative floodgates. “It was like an erupting volcano,” she says, the words of her life and inspirations rolling off her tongue like one of her masterpieces. Like many adolescents looking for a way to process emotion, Artemisia used poetry to channel difficult times. She did not study poetry in school, and for most of her life, she did not write. However, when she was left deeply wounded by a loved one, she says, she “became the poetry.”
“I didn’t choose it. It chose me,” Artemisia explains. The writing helped her overcome the hurtful experience. She saw the poetry as a more-noble way to explain the pain she felt. Her first book, Muta con Passi di Farfalla, which loosely translates to “Speechless with Butterfly Steps,” was a testament to those feelings. Quiet and gentle like a butterfly, she says, she felt renewed, like she had emerged from a cocoon. Her words in this book are not desperate. They are a soft and tentative approach to saying, “You left me wounded because you didn’t know you hurt me.”
Artemisia disappears and returns with a pair of red, plastic-framed reading glasses. She strides over to a bookshelf loaded with books and glamorous shots of her younger self. She selects Muta con Passi di Farfalla off the shelf and sits back in her chair. She slides on her glasses, coils her hair up once more, and cracks open the book. She reads her own poetry aloud, elegantly, perfectly, intently attached to the moment, only peeking up to reconnect with her audience. These are the verses of her wounds.
After reading a few pages of words that flow like silk, Artemisia closes her book. She smiles sweetly as she recalls the first time she presented her book of poems at the Opera House in Cagli in 2005. Most people in the town were surprised to hear her poetry; she had not shared her talent with the community before. After her first performance, people in other villages wanted to hear her work read aloud. So she traveled to the many places she was invited to personally present her poems.
Until recently, Artemisia’s son, Francesco, lived with her. He is the only man in her life, and, she says, for the first time she has an empty nest. “You bear a son so that you may give him wings,” she eloquently explains. And though she has more time, Artemisia says she is writing less. Inspiration comes only occasionally, from a word, a smell, an image. It is often unexpected. For now, she says, she feels like a flat line – nothing too good or too bad happens to inspire her writing. Because of this, she is not sure she will ever write again, but she yearns to discover what lies ahead in her life and hopes it includes happiness.
Artemisia is content with her routine. She enjoys her personal ritual each night, going to bed early, surrounded by anything she might need – books, sweets, television, and, most importantly, pen and paper. On busy evenings and in the early morning, she enjoys peering through her shutters onto the piazza. She is the audience of the theater that is the Cagli piazza. This is her nest above the piazza – protected by friends and family, the Cagliesi people who love and support her.
Artemisia leaves the table once more and returns with a notebook. She rips a page from it, grabs the closest pen, and begins to write. This poem will be dedicated to “Elizabeth – It is useless to reach up to the stars when your sight is set on the trees – With much love – Misia.”